Feminist or Nah?
Collected Perspectives of $ex Workers
Let me preface this by saying that the word woman is always inclusive for me. Anyone who uses she/her pronouns (trans or cis) or is a femme-presenting genderfluid person (they/them), and anyone in between is welcome in this circle. The word sex worker is an umbrella term which encompasses and unites all manner of professions including stripping/exotic dancing, escorting/prostitution, burlesque dancing, camming, sugaring, fetish play, domming/subbing, and so on. In other words “…anyone who exchanges money, goods or services, for sexual or erotic labor” (from the $pread magazine anthology intro).
I was a stripper before I knew I was a feminist. The story behind this is a complicated one. Stripping was an activity I romanticized since I saw Diamond in The Players Club. So, for me, the choice to strip was a mixture between wanting to explore my sexuality and having no other choice, because I couldn’t find a job that paid enough for me to afford my rent.
I had never seen any other black stripper narrative besides the heavily sexualized, extra thotty images of bodied out women of color in rap videos, or the tragic impoverished stripper who “had no choice” (see this City High video). However, all the books and websites of out or semi-out strippers or escorts I came across at the time (circa 2007–2009) were by white women, who waxed on and on about how empowering sex work was for them.
Fast forward to 2016. I am returning to sex work (cam modeling). I posted a series of questions for my sisters to answer about whether or not they feel connected to or adequately represented in the mainstream sex worker movement, and to the feminist movement. One escort said:
“No. And we never will be. We (women/people) have so much to unpack and we don’t even realize it. They (feminists) are a work in progress. Everyone is pro hoe until that hoe comes knocking at their door. Until their boyfriend cheats.”
On representation she had this to say:
“If Cardi B was brownskinned she would not be Cardi B. She wouldn’t have been able to make as much money. She’d be a dirty fucking hoe, that slut, that nasty bitch. She’s ‘the good black.’ She doesn’t represent me because of colorism. There can’t be any representation for us [brown skinned women].”
A fellow cam model, and ex-domme, had this to say:
“I think women of color are underrepresented in the sex worker rights movement, and even more dangerous, we aren’t really heard. Everyone likes the narrative of the “happy hooker.” The middle class white woman who works as a high end escort to feel empowered and can quit whenever she wants because she has a Masters in Psychology form NYU or Berkeley is the trope that is most palatable to mainstream society. That’s whose face is seen and whose voice is heard, not the Black and Brown women who have to work twice as hard to earn half as much. I think online activism is more inclusive of WOC sex workers, but generally we have to make our own spaces to put our specific issues in the spotlight.”
I also asked people how they felt about the term ‘sex worker.’ I have had a couple debates in different Facebook groups about the usage of the term (one said that burlesque dancers should not be included), and others felt the term to be synonymous with prostitution. The previously mentioned ex-domme had this to say:
“I’m honestly not sure. There’s a “whorearchy” that a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge…generally speaking, workers who do not provide full service experiences look down on those who do. There always seems to be this attitude of ‘I do xyz, but I’m not having sex for money though!’ So while I’d like it to be a uniting term, we have to help fix some attitudes we have towards each other, especially in an industry that is mostly criminalized and stigmatized.”
On feminism she had this to say:
“I have no interest in being accepted in white feminism because they don’t have my interests in mind. And not all Black feminist spaces are created equally. Some Black feminist spaces are anti sex work. I don’t think any two people’s feminism is exactly the same, but I feel accepted in black feminist spaces, some more than others. I always test out the spaces before I decide whether it’s for me or not. Any anti sex work talk is going to make me look for a new space.”
Another note: whenever I am talking about feminism, I am speaking on intersectional black feminism, unless I state otherwise. Black feminism is my default. Having laid that out, I feel like certain feminist spaces are not fully sex worker positive. I think that due to racism and assimilation, some black people still struggle with respectability politics, and the policing of black women’s bodies and sexuality. Said Patricia Hill Collins: “…all systems of oppression rely on harnessing the power of the erotic” (from Black Feminist Thought). I have seen women who are seemingly feminist and encourage rampant thottiness (such as the posting of nudes in closed or secret groups), all in good fun, turn around and call women they dislike ho[e]s, thots and, my all time fave, “thirsty.” It seems that it is culturally ingrained for us to revert to these types of insults to shame another woman. However, despite some negative experiences, my overall experience in black feminist groups and sex worker groups on Facebook and on internet forums such as Stripperweb, have been mostly positive. Also I think that because black women are mostly disadvantaged and have dealt with some measure of poverty, there tends to be a lot less shaming, especially from seasoned feminists. Another fellow sex worker agreed, saying:
“I def think that BF (black feminism) is more inclusive when it comes to sex work and on a larger scale I think it’s more inclusive in general. WF tends to shy away from racial issues. I’ve frequently been accused of derailing a conversation when I’ve tried to give my perspective as a black woman in conversations. I think that WF have this idea that being a woman is the ultimate oppression and are unwilling to accept that white women have privilege too.”
A stripper friend of mine had this to say:
“ fuck white feminism. i feel like for the most part black feminism is understanding and accepting of sex work. to me being SW exclusionary is anti-feminist. i definitely feel like anti-SW is rampant in the white feminist community. a lot of us enjoy what we do and we don’t need to be saved.”
These just some perspectives that I have collected on this topic. I feel like these stories are important for us to hear and take note of. I think that its important as a sex worker and a feminist to broaden our reach. Black feminism does tend to be more inclusive, but still has its shortcomings as it pertains to sex work. I think that more of us coming out online or creating blogs and sex worker positive spaces for ourselves outside of the mainstream “white” movements is a step forward in making our issues as black sex workers more visible.